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The Howling
  • Composed by Pino Donaggio
  • La-La Land Records / 2005 / 45:56

Joe Dante’s very silly, very enjoyable horror movie The Howling was the last low-budget film he made before hitting the comparative big time, and the last film he made before beginning his relationship with Jerry Goldsmith, which produced a number of underrated, delightful comic scores.  For this film, Dante turned for the second time to Pino Donaggio, after his excellent score for Piranha, another extremely silly horror film.  Donaggio was still in the formative years of his career, though he had scored a few films of note by then (including the seminal Carrie).  His music is perfect for The Howling – not too straight-faced, not too silly, but getting just the right blend of horror and dark humour together.  The liner notes for the album paint the amusing scene of Donaggio not speaking English and Dante not speaking Italian, but the director knowing someone who could speak Spanish (as could the composer) and so director and composer communicated by Dante speaking to his friend, who would translate English into Spanish, which would be spoken to Donaggion, and then all the way back again.

Donaggio’s music is largely symphonic, though he does employ synths on occasion.  It’s all very effective.  The most impressive sections are probably those in which the composer uses an organ to augment his strings to create an effect which is half way funny and half way scary, exactly like the film.  Donaggio’s string writing is compared with Bernard Herrmann in the liner notes and, while I think that’s probably stretching things a little, I can certainly see where the notion comes from: the stabbing, screeching strings of a piece like “Wolf at the Door” are very effective and very impressive.  Sometimes, there’s more melodic music for chase sections; “Run for your Life!” is probably more silly than scary, but highly entertaining nonetheless.

The eerie tones of “Transformation”, provided by a constantly pulsating synth and some growling brass, finally ending up with some almost orgasmic-sounding noises from a small female choir, makes for a fine piece of horror music; the amusingly-titled “Fur from the Madding Crowd” uses the organ to maximum effect and is again impressive stuff; “Shapeshifters” is one of the few pieces of orthodox action music in the score, with Donaggio laying on the brass in thrilling fashion; and the end title piece is a wonderful conclusion to the score, offering a fleshed-out version of the main romantic theme for the very first time (though it’s followed on the album by a healthy chunk of bonus tracks).  This is a good album, marking the first time the complete score has been released, and I’m sure that the film’s many fans will love it, as will Donaggio fans.  It’s not exactly a classic but, much like the film itself, is a wonderful guilty pleasure.  *** 1/2

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